tv [untitled] CSPAN June 23, 2009 2:00am-2:30am EDT
impact on the earth whatsoever. i think the idea we should have a mix just because it g%å@ @ @ the cost that we will have to take to develop wind power or solar power or by oilfield will be a much more wasteful process in the end. >> i have been in a power plant in france, this has convinced me of the same position that you have. we can reprocess this and by the time that we do this, the physical waste is very small. i remember asking a fellow, when you get down to the final product, there is nothing left to do with the energy.
energy, and he said they store it in the green building outback. i looked at the green building and i asked what they would do if it fell. he said they would build another one. there is no underground activity. it is very small impact. however, the reprocessing plant itself is not cheap. there are those who said that it is fairly heavily government subsidized to achieve that goal. can you give us something about the -- or any of you -- about the economics of the reprocessing that goes on where you take the spent fuel rods and put them back through, if you will, and get an enormous amount of energy the second time? of energy the second time? and then it with small globules that you put in the green building. that is a very significance capital investment --
significanct capital investment. we will need several of those across the united states. how do we get there? >> i think that is a very important question, and i think there are many people who are pushing to get the reprocessing situation builds and say, see, we have handled the waste problem. i do not think that is right. i think there is no question we can do this. for the reasons that you are talking about, i think is important that we do it right. we have stumbled on and a lot of bad habits in this process. there is no hurry to get to it. we could go a long time on the once-through process. i think it is in poor to get the right process so that it will be economical and take whatever time it takes to get there.
i am convinced we can get there. i think it would be a mistake to hurry too fast to get it and end up with a bomb process. we have done that a couple times already. >> any of the rest of you want to comments on his comment that nuclear can do it all? >> yes, senator. first, i would note that it is french law that they must build a repository, and we may take solace in the fact they have had as low luck doing that as we have. -- as will love doing that as we have. at the end of the day, in any regime, whether it is france, japan, the united states, you ultimately need a repository. it may very well have been -- may be a poor choice to follow right now. it remains to be seen what the future holds.
as far as your question about cost, two years ago, a consortium came in to the department of energy and estimated they could build a facility on the order of $20 billion. that is a t of money. there are various ways to finance that. obviously, there are several questions surrounding the waste fund that have yet to be, frankly, even address, let alone answered as far as where that money should be telling. one of the points that we have made in the chamber is that perhaps restructuring the management mechanism and taking it away from the day-to-day at the department of energy and importing of -- and imploring the corporation to deal with contracts whereby it could finance the construction of a
processing/recycling facility -- it could be economical. at the end of the day, it comes down to how many reactors we have. our policy was set 30 years ago. a lot has changed. i do think we need to take a step back and figure out where we are going and figure out if we have a waste policy that fits with that. before i and, i would say that diversification for diversification's sake would be faulty policy, but i think history has demonstrated diversification is important to stabilize interruptions, whether they be international domestic. is important we utilize the resources we have at home, whether it is coal, natural gas -- we have upwards of a third more natural gas in reserves that we had one year ago, at least as far as what was projected. these resources need to be
harnessed. especially if you look at the transportation sector. we rely on fossil fuels for 90% of our transportation. if you were to magically make that go way, which perhaps some wish, that is going to have a catastrophic effect on the macro economy in this country. >> yes? >> i think the point that mr. guith just made is extremely important, about the abundance of natural gas. this is a function of fixed and variable costs. a lot of people get hung up on the fixed costs, and what the point i try to make is if you run this long enough at a controlled price, it is pretty cheap. right now, natural gas is so cheap that it makes all the renewable green sources that are much beloved to some of the strong proponents that you see every day so expensive back in
paris, and they do not make sense. some of them do not make sense anyway because we have a down year for electricity demand. they also do not make anything else make sense either in terms of price. we do have an immense amount of natural gas. we have an immense amount of coal. we have an immense amount of oil shed. we have uranium deposits. we have many natural resources that any given price will make these numbers work. the question as well they all land on demand at the same point in time. diversification does take some of the price pressure away. if natural gas became the solution to everything, it would not stay cheap. >> mr. lieberman? >> you are absolutely correct that affordable energy is very
important. our model showed that higher energy costs river raised trout the economy. -- raise costs throughout the of economy. the whole theme, the whole purpose of capital in trade is to send a market signal. obviously if independent of that there are regulatory restrictions, that is not a market signal. conversely, as we have heard with natural gas stemming from the colorado school of mining, there is much more natural gas than we thought. that cannot be accessed, that is not going to happen anyway, regardless of the market signal that said it might encourage natural gas or nuclear power. it is absolutely vital that we make these energy sources available. that means streamlining regulatory barriers.
>> senator alexander? >> thank you, senator bennett. this has been very helpful. i thank the four of you for your comments. mr. rockwell, you said you would speak from the engineering point of view. is it possible to build 100 new nuclear power plants of 1,240 megawatts or so over the next 20 years? >> i think it clearly is. i thought that in your right up, the talk that you gave in oak ridge, you pointed out that we did build 100 plants in the 20 years between 1970 and 1990. . .
>> i was going to ask you to say something about the naval program. much of it is classified, i suppose, and we cannot talk about it in public. what lesson is for us as we look ahead in terms of our success or lack of success with the nuclear navy program? >> back before we had even proved that the prototype plant for the nautilus would work, president eisenhower wanted -- he was concerned that the bomb was the only image anyone had of nuclear power. he set up the act comes a --
atoms for peace program. at that early stage, we did not even have the nautilus going. yet we were charged with building the world's first commercial atomic power plant. that was in 1953. in 1957, we did not even know what we were going to build it out of. it turned out we had to use a different fuel. we had to create a whole different system. the remarkable thing about the response to that request was that he had been a strong advocate for classification in terms of producing these weapons, these submarines. when we got it for commercial, he said that if we are going to do anything useful for the world, this has got to be classified -- declassified.
we have to produce technical manuals. we have to get into the codes and standards system of the world. he took that message very seriously. in the 1955 geneva conference, we presented a big book that thick about this process and all that we had done. >> the information was declassified under the atoms for peace programs of the west -- so the rest of the world could benefit. >> we created codes and balance for this sort of thing. the legacy of that program is now the property of the whole world. >> did you know about the announcement about building one
had a 25-megawatt reactors? these are about 10 times the size of normal reactors. from an engineering point of view, do you think those will be successful? what comment to you have about that in terms of the ability of this country to build nuclear power plants? >> the point made earlier was right on. it opens up a whole lot of new things. instead of having to make the world's largest pressure vessel and all that stuff and have your tremendous problem of shipping these things -- and having the tremendous problem of shipping these things, when you make the plants smaller, all of those uniquely difficult problems go away. that type of problem goes away. i think it is a very interesting thing. it is going to open up a lot of different new approaches to many of these problems.
>> i have one last question. i want to go back over the nuclear waste produced fuel issued -- or the used fuel issue. you are saying from an engineering point of view, it is safe to store the used fuel for a period of time. it can be stored on site? >> it can be stored anywhere. it has been stored on site for the last several decades. >> for how long could it be safely stored? >> 100 years. by that time, we will be recycling it. utilities are now so anxious to get off their land. they will be bidding each other to get as valuable material back again. there are all sorts of
interesting rare earths@@@@@@@@) issue? >> you can go to two different places for the answer on that. if you go to the scientists who have the job of coming up with problems and do not have work to do if they do not find problems, you will find there are a lot of problems if you go out into the new -- if you go out into the real world, who has ever been hurt by nuclear waste? nuclear activist that wrote " electric wars" said that nuclear waste is no more dangerous than
many types of industrial waste. we have about 6000 of these casts with some material in it. you should get an osha sticker that says not to eat the ceramics. it is all in the can. there are lots of things you should not eat. that is just one of them. >> thank you. >> it seems to me that if we could get the american public past the safety issue and didn't satisfy the number-cruncher's about the cost issue -- and then sat fiveisfy the number
crunchers about the cost issue, it would be on its way to passage. let's talk more about safety. when i was a young man, my generation was affected by the china syndrome. it was a motion picture that may or may not have had any scientific basis in fact. it was followed by three mile island. then there was chernobyl. a member of our panel was just murmuring "chernobyl" under his breath. i think we need to get that out there. talk about what can be done to make the american public feel good about the safety issue.
if you can, be specific about the nuclear waste. i hear what you are saying, doctor rock wwell. let's suppose in a worst-case scenario, we have nuclear waste behind the reactor in a green building. what if some nefarious person gets in there and gets hold of this nuclear waste, what damage could he do to the country and the population? if you could comment about that, i would appreciate it. >> i will take a crack at it. >> the big advantage of nuclear power as a source of energy is that the waste problem is trivial.
we have managed to turn this around to where we are willing to not build plants that then become cold-fired -- coal-fired plants. that is real irony. they say that nuclear waste stays toxic for thousands of years and it is an unprecedented problem. the difference between a radioactive toxin and a non- regular talks and is that the radioactive toxin is getting less toxic every day. the mercury, arsenic, lead, and all these other things maintain full toxicity for ever. for ever. why is it a disadvantage to have a toxin that it's less and less every day? people talk about how we're making all of this reactivity and that it will overwhelm us.
the fact of the matter is that despite the fact that we're making more radioactivity every day, the radioactivity of the earth is getting less every day. the natural decay of the radioactivity is getting less every day. we cannot make reflectivity fast enough to offset the natural decay. when life first evolved, involved in a much more radioactive world than we now have. there is very good evidence that we would be better off biologically if we were getting more radioactivity, more radiation. that radiation, like everything else, in low quantities is beneficial and in high quantities is toxic. >> cut terrorist get into a modern-day american or french nuclear power plant and cause a chernobyl-like incident?
>> no. chernobyl has a graphite moderator. this is something that none of our plants have. the graphite burned for 10 days. it put reactivity directly into the stratosphere call around the world. that type of plant is just not physically possible in an american plant that does not have the graphite to burn. it is physically impossible. t.m.i. is the worst nuclear accident we ever had. people talk about that disaster. they say it would be awful if we had another disaster like that. i saw a column the other day that was talking about if one of the characters did something or other, it would have t.m.i.-like
consequences. the consequences were not there. even the planet -- even the people at the plant were not hurt. there were detectors all around. they didn't interesting thing there. -- they did an interesting thing there. the early measures were photographic film. people got the idea to go around to various places that did not have film exposed to light. it was there t.m.i. you have real film scattered all over in homes and stores. they went and checked them for light. there was no measurable amount of radioactivity. these big problems -- what it proved was that what they did it was actually instigate the china syndrome.
they did enough mistakes that they got molten fuel, at 10 to 20 t of molten fuel, slumped down on the floor of the reactor vessel and started its way to china. do you know how far it got to china? 5/8 of 1 in.. my company went in and scoop out samples. that is how far. it did not even penetrate the cladding let alone the vessel itself. t.m.i. showed that the china syndrome is a myth. it is a safety demonstration. if that cannot hurt anybody, that is pretty good proof. the worst that can happen is that a fuel melts. the other thing about that is where everybody is quick to point out the difference between that and chernobyl was that
t.m.i. had a containment vessel around it and chernobyl did not. this sort of implies that inside the vessel was a chernobyl anxious to get out. the fact of the matter is that inside the container was water, steam, and air in a tremendous churning process. the most serious thing to worry about was iodine and then it cesium. they're both very water soluble. you could bust the containment system open to the water's been combination was taking those volatile things and reducing them about 100,000-fold. if it had busted open, it would not have made a measurable difference. this is all described in a paper.
about 19 members of the national academy of engineering to write it in "science" magazine. they then had more anonymous reviewers. i do not know who they were. the mainstream science paper, there is. nobody has refuted it. it was written in september of 2001. there is a copy out there on the desk. >> thank you very much. you are in an organization dealing with public policy. how do we give the public a comfort level that there really is not a safety issue? >> i am not sure that the public is all that far away right now. if you see the polling on this issue, i think the public is not that far. we have to point to the things that dr. rockwell is talking about, there's tremendous redid
the tremendous safety record. --, the tremendous safety record. there is no reason to wait for yucca mountain. one thing i would mention about waste management is that the back end of the fuel cycle is the one part that is not in the hands of the private sector. it is in the hands of the government. it is the one part where we see the most problems. we have an alternative proposal that would essentially put responsibility for ultimate storage of the waste in the hands of those companies that produce the energy in the first place. we feel they would come up with practical solutions. of course, that would be subject to government safety oversight. that would be the way to solve things instead of waiting interminably for yucca mountain to open. >> i have another line of questioning. you may want to jump in and take a few moments.
then i will take another turn. >> yeah. i have lost my train of thought. i was waiting for you to finish. >> you thought i never would. [laughter] >> no, i just wrapped up in mr. lieberman's comment. go ahead. it will come to me and then i will interrupt you. >> the public has never been the problem on this thing. the real problem is the darn industry itself who keeps bad mouthing their product. they keep saying we may want to build another plant, but we have to make it safer. we have to come up with some sort of answer to the waste problem. you do not hear that sort of stuff from the competitors of nuclear.
i know that i have heard congressmaen say to scientists that they have to make the case. >> i am about to join in with senator bennett on the issue of yucca mountain. >> i just remembered when i wanted to say. it was triggered by one of your comments. i think maybe we should insert it here. you ask a question for which we did not give a definitive answer. if a terrorist were to break into an american plant, could he get ahold of something that could then be used as a terrorist weapon? it is my understanding that the answer to that question is no, that a terrorist could not get his hands on anything. even if a terrorist plot his hands on weapons grade plutonium, the ultimate product
of the reprocessing, he would need the resources of the nation state to turn that into a bomb. is that correct? >> yes, sir. >> the plutonium the results from the processing in france is not classified as weapons grade. >> that is the reason we do not reprocessed. jimmy carter said the consequence would be weapons- grade plutonium. americans were not going to reprocess. thereby, he forced the industry overseas. everybody else is way ahead of us on the technology that we developed. developed. >> three mile island was the demise of the new build in this country. if you go back and look at the other factors that went into